Fresno State cornerback Charles Washington has been out of practice for the past week while continuing to work his way back from post-spring surgery to repair a core muscle injury.
He did not re-injure himself, but he knew something was wrong while going through a bubble-bullet drill on the third day of fall camp. Washington is now trying to get back to where, comfortably and confidently, he can be a fixture in the rebuilding secondary.
“I’ve been just trying to strengthen that area,” Washington said. “It’s not too much of an injury; it’s just more that the area is weak with everything that I’ve had going on.
27 consecutive starts for Fresno State secondary standout Charles Washington, tied for active team lead
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“I don’t do too much stuff for it being injured; more to strengthen it. More weight and resistance. I do some stuff up on the hill. I try to open up my strides because that’s one thing I’m struggling with, getting my knee up and opening up my stride. I’m walking fine. I’m jogging fine with no pain. It’s when I try to burst out I can feel it, so it’s nothing major. It’s just a matter of getting it strengthened up.”
The senior is one of the Bulldogs’ most experienced defensive players, tied with Mike linebacker Kyrie Wilson for the most career and consecutive starts with 27. Washington is expected to be a lock-down left cornerback, after making starts last season at four spots in the back end: strong safety, nickel, right corner and left corner.
Coach Tim DeRuyter said he’s not panicking with Washington sidelined, having missed seven days and 10 practices. And Washington expects the coach will remain calm.
It’s more of a strain than a true injury and we just have to get through and get him back out there as soon as possible.
Coach Tim DeRuyter on Charles Washington’s weeklong absence from practice
Monday is a soft target for a return, which would allow him plenty of time to be ready for the Bulldogs’ opener Sept. 3 against Abilene Christian.
DeRuyter would be relieved to see Washington on the practice field at any point during the week. Fresno State has a two-a-day on Monday and single practices Tuesday and Wednesday before going through a closed scrimmage Thursday – practice 18 of 29.
“The good news is it’s not the exact same thing where it’s, ‘Hey, I thought I had that fixed.’ It’s more of a strain than a true injury and we just have to get through and get him back out there as soon as possible,” DeRuyter said. “You have to get out there and play.
“Football shape is different than getting on a bike or just even running, really. You have to run and run into people, use strength and drive, react, all of those things, especially as a defensive back. I’m still not in a panic stage – Charles knows what’s going on, he knows our defense, but he needs a couple of weeks of grinding to get game ready. So hopefully we’ll get him back and he can get into it.”
With Washington and sophomore Malcolm Washington (groin) out, the Bulldogs have been able to develop their youth, giving extended reps to freshman Mike Bell, redshirt freshman Anthoula “Tank” Kelly and junior college transfer Tyquwan Glass.
Junior Jamal Ellis also has had a good fall camp, and in the morning session of Saturday’s two-a-day he made some strong plays in seven-on-seven and team periods, separating receivers from potential receptions.
But Washington is ready to rejoin the fray and get back to full health for the season. Malcolm Washington also could return sometime after mid-week.
“It’s just getting out there and working,” Washington said. “I felt good at where I was at before I got injured. It’s just unfortunate that this had to happen in one of our drills.
“It feels like it’s a never-ending thing, but like coach told me, ‘Stay mentally in it.’ That’s one thing that can mess you up, if you get down on yourself. For me, it’s my senior year, I’m ready to be out there and be a leader for the younger guys. I’ve been helping Mike Bell out a lot, and it’s good to see everybody come together and develop.”
Quarterback tackles mechanics
Freshman quarterback Chason Virgil has struggled to maintain his throwing mechanics when dealing with myriad blitzes thrown at him, whether in seven-on-seven or team periods, and in the morning session Saturday made a couple of poor throws under pressure.
On one, his pass over the middle sailed well high of its target and was intercepted by free safety Shannon Edwards.
“We have to break a bunch of bad habits,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. “It all comes from summer seven-on-seven and throwing without anybody in front of you – you get in a habit of just being able to drop your elbow and sling that thing sidearm with your elbow below your shoulder.
“He’s not an overly tall guy. He’s tall enough. But he has to get his elbow up when he throws. He has to stay on top of the ball.He has developed a bunch of bad habits that he has to work to break. He hasn’t been here long enough to do it yet, but it’s one of the things that he has to improve on.”
Survival of the toughest
The Bulldogs’ receivers and defensive backs competed in another bubble-bullet drill, two days after a scrimmage in which the blocking on the perimeter was a bit inconsistent.
“We’re making strides every day,” outside receivers coach Joe Wade said. “I think it’s becoming automatic where they come over expecting to fight. That’s all bubble-bullet drill is. It’s a fight. We’re trying to get it to where it’s part of their DNA that when the ball is snapped we fight.
“They have gotten better since the spring. We haven’t had a bad day yet but stacking good days is the goal. We may have one or two bad reps in there, but for the most part I think they’ve gotten better. The challenge is to get consistent at that.”
The competition between the groups has been good throughout camp, and most of the scuffles that have stopped periods have been between receivers and defensive backs.
Both are trying to ramp up their physicality in getting to and at the football.
“I think it has helped both sides, having to go against that every day,” DeRuyter said. “At first, you see the idea where guys are complaining, ‘Hey, you’re holding me.’ No, you have to be physical and rip through.
'”Just setting that edge of expecting physicality and playing through it I think helps both sides of the ball a lot. I think we have a different mental edge and toughness this year compared to last year.”
▪ Redshirt sophomore Zack Greenlee and junior transfer Ford Childress took the team reps at quarterback with the No. 1 offense, with Virgil getting reps with the twos. Redshirt freshman Kilton Anderson did all of the drill work and took seven-on-seven reps, but none in team.
▪ The first team period of the day started good and bad, bad and good – depending on the side of the ball. On the first play from scrimmage, inside receiver Jamire Jordan made a nice cut on a sweep and ran through the middle of the defense for a 75-yard touchdown. On the second play, Greenlee hit Chad Olsen with a pass to the right, but inside linebacker Ejiro Ederaine made a nice hit to separate the sophomore tight end from the football. Freshman Mike linebacker Nela Otukolo rushed in to scoop up the fumble and returned it for a touchdown.
Jordan has flashed a ton in camp. His speed could prove very useful for the Bulldogs, who with as many issues as they had on offense last season still ranked fourth in the Mountain West Conference with 38 explosive pass plays of 20 or more yards. “He had an explosive play against our defense for a touchdown,” DeRuyter said. “We know he’s got that talent, but I’ve got to find the film and see where the breakdown in the defense was.”
▪ Childress had the best throw in the second team period, hitting Olsen for a long touchdown.
▪ Running back Marteze Waller took his first live reps of camp in the morning practice. The Bulldogs want to proceed with caution with Waller, who rushed for 1,368 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, but also need to get him into some contact. “He’s a durable guy,” DeRuyter said. “You have to pick your spots, but I don’t want his first live rep to be when we line up. Running backs have to be physical. They’re going to get hit. They have to learn to do it and when we do concentrated periods, we like to see what he can do. He looked explosive today. He made some great runs.”
▪ The Bulldogs ended the morning practice with a 4-minute drill, which the defense won handily. Greenlee took a series with the No. 1 offense, and went three-and-out. Virgil took the reps with the No. 2 offense, and went three-and-out.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada